Cats easily beat hapless Cards

Published 10:15 am Friday, December 22, 2023

By Keith Taylor

Kentucky Today

Kentucky continued its recent dominance against rival Louisville Thursday night.

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The ninth-ranked Wildcats (9-2) notched their third consecutive victory in the series with a 95-76 rout of the Cardinals, inflicting more hardship on former Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne’s squad. Kentucky won its third straight over Louisville and its 13th in the past 16 games. Payne fell to 9-35 overall with his future in doubt following the team’s fourth setback in the past five games.

“He’s got a really young team,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “You’ve got to let him go do what he does. The players love him, because they play for him. They never let go of the rope. I’m watching and I feel for him. We went through it a couple of years ago. The people get mean and nasty. They do and that’s what you have to deal with in this profession. … it’s just the growing pains, miserable — we went through it. He’s going to fine.”

The Cardinals (5-7) scored the first five points and it was the largest lead the hosts could muster against the Wildcats, who put the game out of reach by scoring 14 of the last 16 points of the first half. Kentucky led by 26 early in the second half.

“We played a team that’s got them ranked nine, and they’re a lot better than mine,” Payne said. “And the reason they’re a lot better is they share the ball. They defend. They have players that can really shoot the ball, really pass the ball, and they’re probably the best passing team we’ve played.

“They are great rebounding, they are great in transition. They keep coming at you. I thought for the first 10 minutes we did a really good job. We affected them some, but as it wore on, we didn’t quite keep it going.”

Antonio Reeves, who scored just nine points in an 87-83 win over No. 11 North Carolina last Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic, responded to his lowest scoring output of the year with a season-high 30 points to lead five Kentucky players in double figures. Reeves tied teammate Tre Mitchell with a team-high four 3-pointers.

Reeves, who scored 22 of the Wildcats’ 53 points in the first half, was named MVP by the Bluegrass Sports Commission and became just the fourth player to score 30 or points in the series between the two rivals. Derrick Miller scored 34 in 1988, Kenny Walker tallied 32 in 1984 and Tony Delk torched the Cardinals with 30 points in 1995.

Mitchell, also a veteran, followed Reeves with 18 points and completed a double-double with 12 rebounds. Justin Edwards had 13 points and scored three straight baskets during a crucial stretch in the second half. Rob Dillingham followed Edwards with 12 points, while Reed Sheppard had his first double-double with 11 points and 11 assists.

“The great thing with this group, (any one player) doesn’t have to play great for us to win,” Calipari said. “We have enough guys. (If a player) has a bad game, just step back and let other guys play more, which tells you there’s no pressure.”

In his fourth game back from an injury, Aaron Bradshaw finished with two points and four rebounds.

“The whole team is still a work in progress,” Calipari said. “We’re still trying to figure stuff out. We’ve got new guys coming in and we’re trying to play different.”

Louisville got a team-high 20 points from Skyy Clark, followed by 16 from Brandon Huntley-Hatfield. Mike James scored 12 points, Tre White added11 points.

“We lost the second half by a point, which tells you his team never stopped,” Calipari said. “They just kept playing.”

In other news, Calipari confirmed Kentucky freshman Zvonimir Ivisic is going home for the Christmas break and is still awaiting clearance from the NCAA.

“(His status) hasn’t changed,” Calipari said.

The Cats are back in action at 7 p.m. Friday at Rupp Arena against visiting Illinois State.